To Inspire Awe, You Must be in Awe

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After playing a show dedicated to the work of Rich Mullins, musician Andrew Peterson wrote a beautiful article on the impact Mullins made in his own life. In that article, Peterson includes this memory of seeing Mullins perform live:

“Something about his concerts made it easy to believe that God was real, and that Jesus actually loved us the way the Bible says he does. There was something about the semi-detached look on his face while he sang that convinced us that the God he was singing about wasn’t an idea, but was an actual person – a person Rich knew.” 

I cannot claim the same level of fandom as Peterson for the works of the late Rich Mullins. I cannot share similar stories of how Mullins’ music impacted me on a personal level. But I know exactly what Peterson speaks of in his experience of watching Mullins perform live. It is the experience of someone or something causing us to briefly see Christ in a new way. Even if for a moment, it is like the veil of this world is lifted, and we are able to behold the awe-inspiring beauty of Christ and the Gospel.

For many, this experience is often found in music; it is the experience I have just about every time I listen to “Far Kingdom” by The Gray Havens. There is something about this song, and a number of their other songs, that communicates a unique and genuine longing for Heaven that carries me out of the fog of everyday life and sets me before the unmasked beauty of Christ.

As I listen to those lyrics and the emotion behind Dave and Licia Radford’s singing, the truth of Heaven somehow feels truer in my heart. Perhaps you have your own band or author that is able to carry you to a similar place. Art (and I think music, in particular) has a way of helping us lose ourselves and become reacquainted with that which we know to be true but often times forget. I am grateful for Christian artists who are able to express these truths in in a way to inspire worship. But Christian singers have surely not been the only ones blessed with this opportunity. As I consider their work and the words of Peterson, my thoughts go to my own ministry and my own teaching. Does it offer the same type of experience?

Admittedly, experience is typically far from my mind when I get up to deliver any given message. I am focused on the content, on making sure I clearly communicate that week’s passage or theme, and not being distracted by those students who will yet again fall asleep or who are seemingly paying no attention. By the time I get up to teach, I confess it is tempting to approach it as if the hardest part of the work is already done. The content has been prepared. Now I just have to speak.

This approach to teaching and preaching, however, is clearly selling the act of preaching short. For the sermon, just as much as the music that proceeds it, is also to be crafted and delivered like any great song. Great lyrics are not quite enough to make a great song. And neither is great content enough to make a great sermon. In order for the truth of Scripture to be fully conveyed, its delivery must communicate both an intellectual understanding as well as genuine sense of awe for the person of Christ whom we proclaim.

This sense of awe is, of course, nothing we can simply manufacture in the moment. It requires a work of the Spirit as he takes even the most familiar texts and uses them to confront us with the glory of God and with a proper sense of our utter dependence on his grace. When this work of the Spirit is removed, even the most exciting story imaginable sounds hollow in our preaching. Just consider the story of Christ’s birth.

The story of Christ’s birth is one many of us have known to be true for years and one we have told countless times. While we know the historical truth of the content, however, it is easy to lose sight of the story’s awe inspiring beauty. Consequently, our lessons convey a sense of familiarity and, if we are not careful, even a sense of boredom.

Regardless of the familiarity of the text, however, the story of the incarnation is far from boring. It is the story of a long awaited dawn breaking into the darkness, and its light is still just as glorious today as it was on that first Christmas night. Before presenting this magnificent truth, however, we must first behold the light of Christ’s birth and consequently see the world (and ourselves, and our students) through that light. We must pour over the text and pray that the Spirit stirs in our hearts the same joy and amazement communicated by the angels who, at the announcement of Christ’s birth, could not help but respond in singing.

We must grasp that when we speak of that baby lying in a manger, we are speaking of our dear Savior, our closest friend, and our Lord. Then and only then can we speak of Christ’s birth. For then, and only then, are we able to speak in a way that communicates that we are not just talking about a historical figure. We are speaking of a person we know.

It is when we speak out of that understanding that we can hope to be used by God in the same way that Peterson remembers Mullins:

“There was something about the semi-detached look on his face while he sang that convinced us that the God he was singing about wasn’t an idea, but was an actual person – a person Rich knew.”

How incredible it is to think that God was able to use something as passing as a facial expression to communicate eternal truths. Might our own presentation of Christ’s birth, and of the countless other treasures found in the Gospel, leave a similar impression on those whom we serve long after our ministry on earth is done.

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